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What Eye Doctor Should I Visit for Macular Degeneration?

Our mom or dad had macular degeneration. Our vision may now be a bit concerning. Or perhaps we think we might need new glasses. Who do we see?

A visit to the optometrist

Our first visit will probably be to an optometrist. And we should go every year whether we believe we need to or not.

An optometrist is responsible for diagnosing eye and vision problems, including cataracts, glaucoma, even macular degeneration. They can prescribe glasses and contact lenses, diagnose and treat some diseases, and may also refer us to a further specialty.

Optometrists are not usually medical doctors but doctors of optometry, which requires eight or more years of study and residency. An optometrist may specialize further in different fields such as pediatric optometry, or low vision rehabilitation, which I hope to never need. But it’s good to know such a professional exists.

It was an optometrist who diagnosed both my cataracts and my wet macular degeneration. Both times, he referred me to an ophthalmologist.

Meet the ophthalmologists

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in both the medical and surgical care of the eyes. They have completed an extra four, five, or more years of specialized training after becoming a physician. An ophthalmologist could further sub-specialize in areas such as glaucoma, pediatrics, retinal or other areas.

My first referral was to the ophthalmologist who did my cataract surgery. At this time, I was also referred to a vitreoretinal specialist for the very early signs of macular degeneration. He gave the OK for the cataract surgery and said to keep an eye on it. My second cataract surgery was about a year later.

Time to visit the retinal specialist

The next referral was about 12 years later when I went in for my regular exam. The optometrist discovered my early dry macular degeneration had advanced to the neovascular or “wet” form. An immediate appointment with my now familiar retinal specialist led to an injection the next day. This was about 5 years ago, and with regular injections, my vision is still quite good.

Continuing to visit the optometrist

I visited my optometrist last week for my regular exam. We sometimes think this isn’t necessary when we’re getting an injection every month or so. But an optometrist is checking for anything else that may be going on with our vision. Other than reduced depth perception, contrast sensitivity, and more difficulty with colour perception, I’m still doing well. The next professional will be an optician, as my current glasses need replacing.

Other eye care providers

An optician or ophthalmic dispenser is trained to prepare and fit the lenses the optometrist prescribed and can be almost as important in our quest for sight as the retinal specialist upon whom we all depend. They may have a degree or certificate from a community or technical college, which could take 1 to 3 years, then on-the-job training or apprenticeship. They must pass a board exam before being licensed.

A support system

One thing we often forget in the beginning is a good support system. Those people in our lives who are always there for us, the ones we can depend upon for help or just a listening ear. An important part of that support system is a community like this, with hopeful stories and experiences of people who have been there before us or have discovered through research something we may have missed on our own.

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